Curating the precious clutter

AIC copyWhen I first walked into the archives of the Art Museum in Cincinnati, I had no idea that the amount of stored art out-weighed that available to the public. Shelves and drawers full of items that museum curators–those with expertise in art history—had determined  were not as valuable to the public as those on display. Showing every article that the museum possessed would overwhelm the museum patrons

Content curation is new buzz word for dealing with information overload. It to refers to the task of determining which of thousands of entries will be chosen and high-lighted as current news for people interested in specific topics–from fashions for women’s shoes, to use of allusions in movies, to politician’s statements on gun control.

Curation of data is something that human have been grappling with for eons. Look up at the sky and there are too many stars to keep track of, even with the limited visibility due to current light pollution. Yet, when thousands more were visible humans relied on knowing the position of specific stars in order to navigate and track time. And the early time keepers spent countless hours mapping the stars. Now we record videos of the sky recorded automatically by telescopes.

Human factors research has pointed out the irony of too much usable information. Tasks such as flying an aircraft become less safe at a point when the pilot reaches a state of cognitive overload from all the indicators (altitude, attitude,  fuel consumption, engine speed, engine temperature, wind speed, outside air temperature etc.) available to help him fly. Now most of us are facing problems with the limits of human ability to integrate all the data that a computer can display.

We must determine not only how to use technology, but also how to keep track of what is important to prevent overload. Most art museum curators have a masters or doctorate in art history to claim expertise. But we do not have a structure curriculum in Internet content curation.  The basic steps for dealing with the informational deluge are recording data and reorganizing it based on your own priorities. There tools for this, in addition to the use of machine learning, but first an large enough sample of adequate entries must be found to even begin the task of controlling the flood of data. There are two approaches:

1) Narrow the topic at beginning (based on input from a cross section of people) and describe a comprehensive picture of that topic.

2) Select a broad topic and retaining only the reference information until arriving at an intriguing aspect. Then, use that aspect to gather the details.

When collecting information for research in past I would attempt to select a narrow topic (for example, inequities in Internet access) and only to discard large amounts of data because I discovered a curious correlation (such as Internet access based on ethnic background in the United States) and decided to concentrate on it. My choice is option 2.

The next step is review and select a way to store and review information. Content curation is actually another technology to learn. A list of curation tools cited frequently in response to a recent inquiry on Quora include:


But perhaps I am over thinking this whole business of content curation. Maybe it is simply a fancy word for reposting, such as done by content curators on Pinterest. They simply repost what suits their fancy.

Photo montage from collection at Art Institute of Chicago


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